I talk with hundreds of local business owners throughout the year about their businesses, and I am struck by two common, related themes –

  1. Confusion and uncertainty about internet marketing for their business.
  2. Using multiple strategies without knowing true costs and/or effectiveness.

Business Owners Too Busy

Most of these local business owners are too busy with the day-to-day operations of their businesses to take the time to analyze exactly what’s going on with their internet marketing efforts. Invoicing, payroll, taxes, regulations, sales and other pressing needs consume practically all of their time – and rightly so.

But, they leave an absolutely critical element of the business up to chance – their internet marketing!

Based on my experience working with real clients over a broad range of local businesses, I’ll give you some advice to reduce the complexity and start making the most of your marketing dollars.

Marketing Has Gotten So Complex – Old Marketing Resources Mostly Dead

Years ago, marketing for your local business was much simpler. A large ad in the local Yellow Pages phone book was a staple and newspaper ads were a great option too. For the more adventurous there was radio and television.

If you were able to take good care of your clients and you were successful enough to do a little basic advertising, it was possible to build a strong, steady local business without too much effort. But things have changed.

As we all know now, the phone book is dead – except for some local small niche areas that can produce for the right business. Newspapers are on the way out if not already dead. Radio and television advertising can be a good match for the right business but costs can be high and the ROI can be an issue.

That leaves the 800 pound gorilla in the corner – Internet Marketing.

Confusion About Local Business Internet Marketing

I’ll bet that every business owner who is reading this article has received many calls from far away cities pitching one marketing ploy or another. My favorite is the one that begins something like this:

This is Sharon, your local Google specialist. Your business has been approved for a guaranteed Google front page placement with unlimited clicks 24 hours a day.

or something to that effect. I get calls from clients wondering if Google is calling them and I have to tell them that, unless you call Google first, they won’t be calling you. This is a scam.

If you do sign up with them you will find that they are high-priced and cannot actually guarantee your placement on search engines. By the time you realize they are a scam, many of your hard-earned dollars will have disappeared with little to nothing to show for the expense.

Here’s a fact you can take to the bank (literally): 99.99% of the cold calls you get about some sort of marketing for your business are virtually worthless at best and will probably cost you vast amounts of money and lost time. If they’re cold-calling you, then they’re probably not worth your time.

What about the “Big Names” in internet marketing for my business?

Most of the above marketers who call you day and night are no-name fly-by-night operators that you should run away from. I need to also mention some of the big names in internet marketing for local businesses. DEX, Yodle, Hibu, ATT, Angie’s List, Yelp and the multiple Yellow Pages etc. They try to sell you just as hard and are often just about as useless for your business.

Note: The free citation pages offered by many of the big names are fine to use. Claim your page and add your information. That is a great asset for your business. I draw the line at paid advertising with them.

No, they’re not scams in the same sense that the cold-callers are, but IMHO (in my humble opinion) clients seldom benefit from using these big names to market their local businesses.

Effective Sales Funnels But Poor Customer Fulfillment

As I have learned by actually working with clients to help straighten out their internet marketing, these “big names” have highly effective sales people, but truly rotten customer fulfillment systems. I understand that many who are reading this may already be using one of the big names and believe they are getting a great deal. I get that and if that’s true, then please accept my sincere apologies for my decidedly downbeat assessment of their ability to actually help local businesses build their businesses.

My experience proves otherwise. I am literally stunned at times just how poorly these big names treat their clients.

Most, if not all, of my clients come to me after a really poor experience with a big name.

In addition to hardly ever delivering on the promise of increased leads and sales for their local business customers, most of the big names’ delivery systems are built first for their benefit only – and not the client’s!

In addition to really poor service delivery systems, I’ve seen many other serious issues with the big name internet marketing firms including;

  • High-pressure sales calls, sometimes downright abusive (ask me about this!)
  • Multiple account managers (no consistency, little to no experience)
  • Enforced annual contract requirement (locks in cost but not performance)
  • Worthless, unenforceable guarantees
  • Difficult if not impossible to change strategy or other details
  • Outsourcing critical elements to low-paid offshore workers (no control over critical tasks)
  • Very poor communications (waiting in phone queue, multiple calls)
  • They can leave a mess behind that will need cleaning up (expensive and wastes time)
  • No ability or inclination to customize strategy for each client

I’ll delve into this subject in-depth in a subsequent article but, suffice to say, my client’s experiences with big name internet marketers are almost all universally poor. Plus, the time is wasted and messes are made that need to be cleaned up.

If you’re on the fence about signing an annual contract with one of these companies, please, PLEASE think long and hard about it. Based on my limited statistics, you’ll probably be making a big mistake.

Assets vs. Advertising

This is another area of confusion for local businesses. With the advent of the internet, determining what is an asset and what is advertising for your business has become blurred.

Based on my experience over the years helping local businesses, here are my definitions.

An asset is something that, when you stop paying (except for registration and basic maintenance) still belongs to you and is still working for your business.

Typical internet marketing assets are your domain name (VERY important to control) and your website. Some semi-assets (assets that are under your control but are owned by third parties) include your Facebook and Google business pages, Twitter account, etc.

Advertising disappears the moment you stop paying. Your DEX page, Google Adwords, your Hibu page and any other similar advertising disappears into a cloud of dust as soon as the payments stop.

Does this mean that assets are always good and advertising is always bad? Not necessarily.

Some advertising can be very productive. Take Google Adwords for example, can be a really good form of advertising for a local business, provided you use keywords effectively and send clicks to a good landing page.

From my experience, expensive advertising on a Big Name directory page (probably the most common sales push) is like throwing your money down a black hole. The last client I advised learned that their advertising on a Big Name directory page had cost them about $150 per click – in an industry where the most expensive Adwords clicks cost about $4.50 each. They got a total of two clicks to their site for $300 in a month. You tell me if that’s a great deal.

Measuring Success – Or Failure

Which brings me to my final thought – the ability to measure your efforts to get a good idea what’s working – and what’s not.

Most local business owners use no reliable or consistent method to measure success. And accurate measurements are a critical component of internet marketing campaigns that most often go by the wayside in the rush to implement the latest “shiny object” that some telephone salesperson has excitedly revealed.

Success must be measured to truly know if it is success.

What’s the definition of success? A sale or a new client? Clicks to your website? 500 impressions a month? The question is – how did that visitor find you to buy your product or service?

A lot of my clients take a seat-of-the-pants approach to this metric. Some have a good feel as to how the client found them – and through what channels (advertising or not) their new client found them. For the right business owner, under the right circumstances, this can be a good way to gauge success – or failure.

But for the majority of my clients, they have no clue why customers and clients are finding them – or not.

Establish a Good Measurement System

Honestly, a good, reliable and easy-to-use measurement system is not difficult to put in place or to use. No matter what advertising you use or what assets you have in place working for your business, your website should always be your “hub” of activity. You should be directing all traffic to your website (in most cases) where you can determine how many visitors you get, where they came from, what keywords they use to find you, how long they stay on your site and other valuable information.

You NEED to be using Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools – both free tools that provide almost all of the information you need to determine if your marketing efforts are successful – or are failing.

I’m not going to dive into Analytics and Webmaster Tools training – there are literally TONS of great resources on the web to help you use those tools effectively. My point is you should be using them on a daily (or at least weekly) basis as a source of data to determine how effective your internet marketing is, and, more importantly, how to fix what isn’t working. Every business owner needs a feedback loop to tell him or her what is working and what is NOT working so that fixes can be implemented, or changes can be made to increase sales.

The Answer Is NOT Complex

The great news is this is NOT complex. Once you get used to using these tools (or rely on someone who can read and interpret that data for you), I would bet you dollars to donuts that your marketing efforts will buy you MUCH more business and you can safely discard those strategies that are failing. It’s as simple as that!

In a nutshell, internet marketing doesn’t have to be confusing or expensive. In fact, your internet marketing efforts should be a profit center – if you are strategically gathering data and analyzing that data and taking the appropriate action.

What should you be doing to build an effective internet marketing plan for 2016?

  • Build an informative lead generation website as a hub of your business
  • Position yourself as an expert in your business niche
  • Educate your clients and customers – don’t sell to them
  • Examine ALL of your marketing efforts
  • Develop a way to measure ROI
  • Dump those marketing strategies that aren’t working
  • Simplify your marketing – get back to basics
  • Resist “shiny object syndrome” (latest & greatest marketing schemes)
  • Say “NO” to cold call salespeople
  • Have a great time and be happy

Here’s to a great 2016 and I sincerely hope that you decide to take a second look at your internet marketing and take some data-driven action.

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